The Ecology of Freedom

Any topics primarily focused on metaphysics can be discussed here, in a generally casual way, where conversations may take unexpected turns.

Moderator: Soul_of_Shu

Jim Cross
Posts: 511
Joined: Thu Feb 04, 2021 12:36 pm

Re: The Ecology of Freedom

Post by Jim Cross »

Lou Gold wrote: Tue Oct 19, 2021 8:48 pm
Jim Cross wrote: Tue Oct 19, 2021 1:28 pm Lou,

This sounds like a ridiculous premise with little more validity than conventional explanations. And the critique of conventional explanations seems like straw man arguments.

I doubt anybody believes there was a sort of monotonal march from small bands to massive civilizations. All civilizations rise, expand, shrink, expand, fail. The ways people live through all of it are varied with all sorts of different types of groupings depending upon circumstances - ecology, technology, climate, political interactions. Prime example is the Mayan civilization which likely evolved from small bands of hunter-gatherers through small agricultural communities to city states and back to small agricultural communities embedded (at present) in world civilization. Virtue isn't always on the side of indigenous any more than evil solely on the side of civilization.
Jim,

I don't get your point. The book's authors, according to the quoted selections of the review do not bifurcate indigenous and civilized. They assert a diversity of indigenous civilizations and a fluidity not unlike the Mayan example you offer. They don't equate good/indigenous or evil/civilized and neither do I. And yet, this seems as a persistent 'fig in your mind'. Why?
Lou,

I went back and read what you posted and actually read the entire review in The Atlantic. I haven't read Graeber. I still don't see your point in objecting so much to mine.

Let me quote part of what you posted:
The Dawn of Everything is framed by an account of what the authors call the “indigenous critique.” In a remarkable chapter, they describe the encounter between early French arrivals in North America, primarily Jesuit missionaries, and a series of Native intellectuals—individuals who had inherited a long tradition of political conflict and debate and who had thought deeply and spoke incisively on such matters as “generosity, sociability, material wealth, crime, punishment and liberty.

The Indigenous critique, as articulated by these figures in conversation with their French interlocutors, amounted to a wholesale condemnation of French—and, by extension, European—society: its incessant competition, its paucity of kindness and mutual care, its religious dogmatism and irrationalism, and most of all, its horrific inequality and lack of freedom.
So if that is not "indigenous good, civilization bad" then I don't know what is. The book is framed on the idea that in some idealized moments in human history there were some indigenous people somewhere that were kind, generous, and free. Perhaps there were such moments but the only thing the example would prove is that societies and cultures are not universally screwed up. What about the contacts of English and the Spanish with indigenous? What did the Spanish encounter? In Mexico, at least, an indigenous civilization that relied on massive human sacrifice and whose subjects couldn't wait to side with the Spanish to overthrow their rulers.

If the encounter mentioned with the "Native intellectuals" was with the Iroquois, then there are more problems. While the Iroquois Confederacy was a bright light as far as having a semblance of Western values (which these authors claim to be originally indigenous values), some of shine begins to dim if you look too closely. The Iroquois were primarily agriculturalists that grew corn, beans, and squash and they were expansionists, warring with Algonquin tribes. They had to expand their territories to support their large population. In 1649, an Iroquois war party, consisting mostly of Senecas and Mohawks, destroyed a Huron village. Then they destroyed the Erie and the Mohicans. The Iroquois went on raids to secure captives for slaves. The "Native intellectuals" may have had high-minded principles but they likely applied them selectively.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iroquois#Expansion

All in all, this sounds like a deeply flawed book. Scholars have looked past Hobbs and Rousseau for decades. There have been over a hundred years of anthropology and hundreds of monographs on different cultures that demonstrate the point that there are many ways to organize a society. Their argument with " conventional account of human social history" is an argument against ideas that haven't been prevalent for over a hundred years.
User avatar
Lou Gold
Posts: 1228
Joined: Wed Jan 13, 2021 4:18 pm

Re: The Ecology of Freedom

Post by Lou Gold »

Jim Cross wrote: Thu Oct 21, 2021 7:58 pm
Lou Gold wrote: Tue Oct 19, 2021 8:48 pm
Jim Cross wrote: Tue Oct 19, 2021 1:28 pm Lou,

This sounds like a ridiculous premise with little more validity than conventional explanations. And the critique of conventional explanations seems like straw man arguments.

I doubt anybody believes there was a sort of monotonal march from small bands to massive civilizations. All civilizations rise, expand, shrink, expand, fail. The ways people live through all of it are varied with all sorts of different types of groupings depending upon circumstances - ecology, technology, climate, political interactions. Prime example is the Mayan civilization which likely evolved from small bands of hunter-gatherers through small agricultural communities to city states and back to small agricultural communities embedded (at present) in world civilization. Virtue isn't always on the side of indigenous any more than evil solely on the side of civilization.
Jim,

I don't get your point. The book's authors, according to the quoted selections of the review do not bifurcate indigenous and civilized. They assert a diversity of indigenous civilizations and a fluidity not unlike the Mayan example you offer. They don't equate good/indigenous or evil/civilized and neither do I. And yet, this seems as a persistent 'fig in your mind'. Why?
Lou,

I went back and read what you posted and actually read the entire review in The Atlantic. I haven't read Graeber. I still don't see your point in objecting so much to mine.

Let me quote part of what you posted:
The Dawn of Everything is framed by an account of what the authors call the “indigenous critique.” In a remarkable chapter, they describe the encounter between early French arrivals in North America, primarily Jesuit missionaries, and a series of Native intellectuals—individuals who had inherited a long tradition of political conflict and debate and who had thought deeply and spoke incisively on such matters as “generosity, sociability, material wealth, crime, punishment and liberty.

The Indigenous critique, as articulated by these figures in conversation with their French interlocutors, amounted to a wholesale condemnation of French—and, by extension, European—society: its incessant competition, its paucity of kindness and mutual care, its religious dogmatism and irrationalism, and most of all, its horrific inequality and lack of freedom.
So if that is not "indigenous good, civilization bad" then I don't know what is. The book is framed on the idea that in some idealized moments in human history there were some indigenous people somewhere that were kind, generous, and free. Perhaps there were such moments but the only thing the example would prove is that societies and cultures are not universally screwed up. What about the contacts of English and the Spanish with indigenous? What did the Spanish encounter? In Mexico, at least, an indigenous civilization that relied on massive human sacrifice and whose subjects couldn't wait to side with the Spanish to overthrow their rulers.

If the encounter mentioned with the "Native intellectuals" was with the Iroquois, then there are more problems. While the Iroquois Confederacy was a bright light as far as having a semblance of Western values (which these authors claim to be originally indigenous values), some of shine begins to dim if you look too closely. The Iroquois were primarily agriculturalists that grew corn, beans, and squash and they were expansionists, warring with Algonquin tribes. They had to expand their territories to support their large population. In 1649, an Iroquois war party, consisting mostly of Senecas and Mohawks, destroyed a Huron village. Then they destroyed the Erie and the Mohicans. The Iroquois went on raids to secure captives for slaves. The "Native intellectuals" may have had high-minded principles but they likely applied them selectively.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iroquois#Expansion

All in all, this sounds like a deeply flawed book. Scholars have looked past Hobbs and Rousseau for decades. There have been over a hundred years of anthropology and hundreds of monographs on different cultures that demonstrate the point that there are many ways to organize a society. Their argument with " conventional account of human social history" is an argument against ideas that haven't been prevalent for over a hundred years.
Jim,

You may appreciate this review more: Beyond the State

Also, here's the Graebner and Wengrow analysis of the Spanish-Mexican encounter, which may give you a better direct view of their work: Hiding in Plain Sight
Be calm - Be clear - See the faults - See the suffering - Give your love
User avatar
Lou Gold
Posts: 1228
Joined: Wed Jan 13, 2021 4:18 pm

Re: The Ecology of Freedom

Post by Lou Gold »

Jim,

I believe that the basic points of the G&W analysis are: 1) Some historical indigenous peoples were civilized and lived under stateless democratic social organization prior to the European Enlightenment (Democracy, etc did not originate in Europe) and 2) autocratic hierarchical statism was not an inevitable consequence of agriculture (as per Diamond or Harari) and 3) a more anarchist central stateless organization remains a viable possibility. They argue that these societies were domestically more peaceful, egalitarian and democratic and not that they were less likely to engage in war with their neighbors. My skepticism would focus on the reality that the centralized state form seems more effective in war and thereby came into dominance and not because it was somehow more enlightened.
Be calm - Be clear - See the faults - See the suffering - Give your love
Jim Cross
Posts: 511
Joined: Thu Feb 04, 2021 12:36 pm

Re: The Ecology of Freedom

Post by Jim Cross »

Lou Gold wrote: Fri Oct 22, 2021 12:58 am Jim,

I believe that the basic points of the G&W analysis are: 1) Some historical indigenous peoples were civilized and lived under stateless democratic social organization prior to the European Enlightenment (Democracy, etc did not originate in Europe) and 2) autocratic hierarchical statism was not an inevitable consequence of agriculture (as per Diamond or Harari) and 3) a more anarchist central stateless organization remains a viable possibility. They argue that these societies were domestically more peaceful, egalitarian and democratic and not that they were less likely to engage in war with their neighbors. My skepticism would focus on the reality that the centralized state form seems more effective in war and thereby came into dominance and not because it was somehow more enlightened.
Lou,

We're getting closer to seeing things the same.

Points in order.

1- The message of anthropology is all people are civilized. There is just a wide diversity of cultures with different technologies, myths, knowledge, and social systems. Some were likely more democratic than others. Democracy didn't have a single origin. The Western form traces back to the Greeks and the Romans. Western thinkers in Europe may have been influenced by contact with indigenous peoples but it is difficult to see how much actual influence came from indigenous people vs how much was Western thinkers projecting their own ideas on them.

2) States arise because of population size and density., although having external enemies may also play a role. Population size is indirectly controlled by technology which includes agriculture. I note, however, that just about everybody in the world are agriculturalists and have been for over several thousand years The Iroquois were. The Mayas, Aztecs, Incas, and the pre-Columbian indigenous in Brazil were too.

I'm not going to defend Diamond or Harari. You can find plenty of criticism of their views, which is ample enough argument that the premise of the Graeber book is a criticism not of a widespread view in contemporary anthropology but instead a critique of the views of a few.

I find your use of the "autocratic hierarchical statism" problematic since it, by itself, seems Western tainted in conception. I don't know whether the Maya, the Chinese empire, or city states of ancient Japan meet that criteria or not. They probably don't so I would agree with your comment as written and those examples would prove your point (that is, those governments were not like the Western conception of a state) . Rather than using that term, I would just say the larger the population/density the more structured becomes the social and political organization, the more likely there will be elites specializing in government activities alone. The Iroquois, possibly because of their success in agriculture, grew to a large population size but their populations, precisely because of the way they grew corn, varieties of it available, and the ecology of their land, needed a lot of land so their density was low. Confederacy would be a perfect solution. So they may be proving the point that ecological and technological influences are powerful forces shaping politics and society.

3) I doubt a more anarchist central stateless organization is possible in our current world. The only way I could see we could transition to one would require a significant reduction in population. The only humane way of that happening would be birth control. I believe world population is projected to stabilize sometime in this century so perhaps it could begin to shrink. Maybe in two to three hundred years conditions could change. The remaining population centers might become democratic but it would just as likely some would go the other way.

Of course, somebody has to put an idea out there before it is ever possible for the idea to be realized. So perhaps Graeber deserves credit for doing that. However, the actual transition from our current system to a Graeber-like democracy isn't going to occur simply because enough people think the same.
User avatar
Lou Gold
Posts: 1228
Joined: Wed Jan 13, 2021 4:18 pm

Re: The Ecology of Freedom

Post by Lou Gold »

Here's another positive review for you to consider: David Graeber Knew Ordinary People Could Remake the World
Be calm - Be clear - See the faults - See the suffering - Give your love
idlecuriosity
Posts: 53
Joined: Wed Oct 20, 2021 5:14 pm

Re: The Ecology of Freedom

Post by idlecuriosity »

People can, owing rigorously to their character and clamor, responsibly and effectively command the freedom to proselytize for change but if you were to instead achieve the abolishing of any structure that could facilitate those concerns in reality? That is not a fantastic notion for those who'd err on the steady solidarity bestowed upon us by our history's gradual upward slope from violent feudal tyranny to a more civilized society.

I would just want a set of solid rules that would hold up the pervasively flaunted better alternative that is supposedly anarchism so I abet my principles of knowing if I'd agree with some garden variety anarchism, or not. I've simply never seen a comprehensive repudiation of my ignorance about it's structural dynamics and applicability which itself raises more red flags to me about the good faith acting of it's staunch advocates than I'd see raised from the failure or success that those ideas might have with convincing me.

I never feel like I am in good graces when I'm being told what to think of a dichotomy between two alternatives and not simply being given the cold mechanics about the option punchbagging their strawman, to make heads or tails of myself
User avatar
Soul_of_Shu
Posts: 1580
Joined: Mon Jan 11, 2021 6:48 pm

Re: The Ecology of Freedom

Post by Soul_of_Shu »

Oh Divine namers, the one Being and the infinitude of Beings, all inter-being, are not two ... know thyself, and the other, by your true eternal name, the ever-present origin.
Here out of instinct or grace we seek
soulmates in these galleries of hieroglyph and glass,
where mutual longings and sufferings of love
are laid bare in transfigured exhibition of our hearts,
we who crave deep secrets and mysteries,
as elusive as the avatars of our dreams.
User avatar
Lou Gold
Posts: 1228
Joined: Wed Jan 13, 2021 4:18 pm

Re: The Ecology of Freedom

Post by Lou Gold »

I never feel like I am in good graces when I'm being told what to think of a dichotomy between two alternatives and not simply being given the cold mechanics about the option punchbagging their strawman, to make heads or tails of myself

I don't either. I think naively as the coin we are both heads and tails and the challenge is to find balance in change.

A recent review puts it like

Importantly, Graeber and Wengrow do not idealise a particular “golden age”; we are not being urged to embrace a Palaeolithic lifestyle. They stress the sheer variety and hybridity of early human societies – hierarchical and non-hierarchical, equal in some respects and not in others. Indeed, peoples like the Cherokee or the Inuit even alternated between authoritarianism and democracy depending on the season. Nevertheless, the authors make their sympathies clear: they admire experimentation, imagination and playfulness, as well as mastery of the art of not being governed, to use historian James C Scott’s term.

The Dawn of Everything is an exhilarating read, but it’s unclear how effectively it makes the case for anarchism. Sceptical readers will be driven to ask: if states in their current form are really so unnecessary, why have they become so dominant across the world? To address this, Graeber and Wengrow would have needed to offer a much fuller account of why modern states emerged, how they could have been avoided and how we might live without them. This is what Kropotkin tried to do, and such questions seem particularly pressing when the sheer complexity and interconnectedness of current global challenges lead many to conclude that we need more state capacity, not less.

Even so, myth-busting is a crucial task in itself. As we seek new, sustainable ways to organise our world, we need to understand the full range of ways our ancestors thought and lived. And we must certainly question conventional versions of our history which we have accepted, unexamined, for far too long.


Might similar might be said about the idealism/physicalism debate? "If materialism is baloney, why did it become dominant?" Does it boil down to materialism and statism organized in union are hard to beat?
Be calm - Be clear - See the faults - See the suffering - Give your love
idlecuriosity
Posts: 53
Joined: Wed Oct 20, 2021 5:14 pm

Re: The Ecology of Freedom

Post by idlecuriosity »

I'll admit that's a real point. It's frightening to think that sub optimal ways of assessing the world can dominate human purveyance of reality, to be honest. More frightening still that those we've deferred to as authorities might not know enough to even ponder the merits of what our best interests might actually be or how they'd be entertained, let alone the matter of if they care. I'll consider what you've presented well, it's difficult to exhume from myself the tribalistic bias that's come to hallmark the public's so called search for truth (in name only.) I apologize for seeming like a reflection of it there, if I did
User avatar
Lou Gold
Posts: 1228
Joined: Wed Jan 13, 2021 4:18 pm

Re: The Ecology of Freedom

Post by Lou Gold »

idlecuriosity wrote: Sat Oct 23, 2021 4:50 pm I'll admit that's a real point. It's frightening to think that sub optimal ways of assessing the world can dominate human purveyance of reality, to be honest. More frightening still that those we've deferred to as authorities might not know enough to even ponder the merits of what our best interests might actually be or how they'd be entertained, let alone the matter of if they care. I'll consider what you've presented well, it's difficult to exhume from myself the tribalistic bias that's come to hallmark the public's so called search for truth (in name only.) I apologize for seeming like a reflection of it there, if I did
No need to apologize. I believe that the moment we use language, we carry forth its legacies learned as we domesticated into whatever dominant paradigm our cultural survival demanded. Novelty arises from naming and its creativity is both constructive and destructive -- there's always an 'evil twin', everything born dies is the rule of dynamic systems. I'm neither a philosopher or historian but intuitively I resist the notion that human and biotic diversity can be pinned down into an ever-ascending pyramid-like stage-by-stage model of development. Thus, I find the so-called tentative approach of 'way-searching' potentially more useful than a possibly more fundamental 'truth seeking' but what do I know?
Be calm - Be clear - See the faults - See the suffering - Give your love
Post Reply